It has been quite a while since I have written a short story, as I was reminded by the local publication of ‘Mercury Silver’ last month which includes three of mine. I challenged myself to deliver another short-short one (under 1000 words) based on New Year, and wrote it in the early hours of January 4th:
(The’golf club’ is actually Rawdons Hotel in the Natal Midlands.)
‘Oh, don’t be such a stick-in-the mud. Come with me and Alex to see the New Year in at the Club like we did last year,’ Celeste bubbled.
Linda scowled at her. ‘I hate New Year and I hate the golf club,’ she burst out with uncharacteristic venom.
‘You still won’t say anything about last year, even to me, your best friend. I’m not stupid.’ Celeste looked at her watch and started to get up. ‘I take it you were dumped by that dishy Reg bloke you’d been going out with. So what? Lots of other fish in the sea. Even now, it’s not too late to throw out some hooks for this evening.’
‘There aren’t any other fish,’ Linda said, so under her breath that Celeste barely caught the reply, and added again more strongly, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
Celeste sat down again. ‘D’you mean that even with the short time you knew him, and the lousy way he stood you up at the party, and then pushed off overseas a few days later and with never a word to you for over a year, you still have some feelings for him?’
‘I don’t want to t-t-talk about …’ Then Linda’s face crumpled and she burst into tears. ‘We even touched on marriage,’ she blurted out between sobs. ‘I thought he was of the same m-mind, but obviously that scared him off.’
Celeste put her elbows on the table, cupped her face in her hands, and stared intently at her friend. ‘Have you got it so bad that if he rocked up now with some pathetic excuse or other, you’d still want to pick up with him again?’
Linda was silent for a long time. Then she said haltingly, ‘I hate myself for this, but yes. Just for the chance to see him again for a while, and even if I knew it would lead to another bout of heartbreak … oh, if only …’
Celeste rose again and said briskly, ‘Gotta go, and you’d better stop mooning around like you have the whole year, and start doing stuff. Now, I’m not asking any longer: I’m telling you. Alex and I will pick you up at seven. See you then.’ Blowing a kiss, she left, ignoring Linda’s splutters.
For the rest of the day, Celeste wouldn’t take calls, and she responded to a ranting text message with, ‘C U @ 7’, so Linda reluctantly changed and was ready when Alex and Celeste arrived. Ignoring her protests, they bundled her into the car and set off. There was little conversation on the way, which was strange because both her ‘kidnappers’ seemed to have a sense of barely-held-back excitement about them.
After arrival at the club, her friends shepherded her to the same table they had shared a year ago. Now, though, there were three already seated there, including two mutual friends who got up and moved away as soon as they saw Linda. ‘See you later,’ Celeste said, and she and Alex went off with the other two to the bar at the far end of the room.
The remaining man stood up and stared raptly at Linda. ‘Reg!’ she gasped, almost collapsing into the chair he held out for her.
‘Now for my pathetic excuses, darling,’ Reg said. It would have taken a great actor to project his look of sheer adoration.
‘I can already tell that they aren’t going to be pathetic, but fire away.’
Reg poured some wine for her — her favourite, she noted absently. ‘Let me pitch straight in,’ he said. ‘On 29th December last year I was diagnosed with early stages of Parkinson’s disease. I had been concerned about things like the trembling and twitching setting in. There was a bad bout when I got up that morning, so I went to my GP, and he managed to get me an appointment right away with a specialist. Surprising, at my age, but even children can get it …’
‘I’ll stand by you, of course,‘ Linda broke in. ‘Don’t worry, I know just what to expect, too; one of my aunts had it …’
Reg stopped her with a gesture, and resumed. ‘I knew you’d think like that, being the lovely person you are. Of course, there was no question of condemning you to looking after someone gradually becoming completely helpless, but if I simply told you the truth you’d have insisted. After agonising over it for a couple of days, I thought it would be better to leave you hating me than tied, even if only emotionally, to a chronic invalid. So, I left the country but ignored specialist treatment. I knew it would only put off the later stages and I didn’t really want them put off. What did I have to live for? As an incurable disease I wanted it to do its thing — but finally a colleague noted the symptoms and insisted that I consult an expert.
‘After a number of tests and questions from that doctor, and from others he referred me to for second and third opinions, it was decided I didn’t have Parkinson’s after all. It was another disease quite often misdiagnosed as that, called Essential Tremor or ET. To cut a long story short, I was eventually given bilateral DBS implants — that stands for Deep Brain Stimulation — and that has worked perfectly with none of the nasty side-effects that sometimes happen.
‘I am now functioning without the horrible progressive effects of Parkinson’s, and without being doomed to that sort of downhill spiral. As such I thought that if you still felt for me what I do for you …’
At this stage Linda’s chair went crashing, and he was being soundly kissed, to a round of applause from the bar.
When they were able to speak again:
‘They were all in on this!’ she said accusingly, gesturing towards their grinning friends.
He gave her a sheepish nod. ‘I wanted to be certain you still felt the same way as I do, or whether I needed to stay vanished. I asked Celeste, but she didn’t know for sure because you wouldn’t talk about it, even to her. She said she’d find out definitely, though, by hook or by crook. I could hardly wait to see you after she gave me the thumbs-up.’
‘Don’t you ever, ever, ever be so pig-headedly wonderful again!’ she commanded, finding with mild surprise that she was now seated on his lap.
© January 2018 Colonialist